Photos by James Hilchen, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 2.57
Drake Stadium 2719 Forest Ave Des Moines, IA 50311
Year Opened: 1925
Opened in 1925, Drake Stadium plays host to Drake Bulldogs football and hosts the annual Drake Relays, one of the biggest track and field events in the nation. The stadium underwent a significant renovation in 2005 where capacity was decreased from 18,000 to its current capacity of 14,557. At the conclusion of the Bulldogs season in 2015, the dated scoreboard was taken down and replaced with a more modern board. The new Daktronics video board measures 24 feet high by 38.5 feet wide and allows for far more freedom for the video team to show replays and various other graphics.
The Drake Relays gather the greatest athletes from around the country on an annual basis. Among the competitors who have competed in the relays are: Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, Jesse Owens, Wilma Rudolph, and Gwen Torrence. Following the 2016 relays, a new track was installed and is constructed of the same material used for tracks in the Beijing and London Summer Olympic games.
The football field is named after Johnny Bright, a Drake alum and member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. The Drake football team has won 13 conference championships. The team is also significant historically as being one of the participants in the first ever night game at Soldier Field (Chicago) in 1930 (against Oregon). The Bulldogs compete in the Pioneer League. Drake Stadium is the largest stadium in the league.
Food & Beverage 2
There is certainly nothing elaborate on the menu, but the basics are covered and the prices are reasonable. Cheeseburgers, pulled pork, and brisket sandwiches ($6 each) are the best options. Popcorn, pretzels, candy, nachos, and hot dogs are also on the menu, ranging from $2-$4.
Coke products are the beverage of choice here, with the best bet being the large souvenir cup for $5. The souvenir cup comes with $2 refills. Bottled water, Powerade, and coffee and also on the menu. Drake Stadium does not serve alcoholic beverages.
The best way to get in the college football mood is to take in the tailgating. Although a smaller group than larger colleges, a spirited crowd gathers before every game enjoying food and drinks before kickoff.
Once inside the stadium, there really isn’t much to get excited about. The football field sits in the middle of the track. As such, fans sitting in the front row are still far away from the action due to eight running lanes separating them from the sidelines. The stadium is large and combined with the small crowds, any excitement is minimal.
The new scoreboard is located on the north side of the stadium. If you are looking for shade, your only option is sitting behind the south end zone. Don’t worry about requesting a seat there; everything is general admission and there are only smatterings of people that take advantage of the shade.
The Drake band sits behind the south end zone while the cheerleaders entertain the crowd along the east sideline.
Drake Stadium is located a few miles away from downtown Des Moines. Downtown Des Moines has everything a visitor could want; plenty of great places to eat and drink, lodging options, and things to do with the family.
Just down the street from the stadium is Jethro’s BBQ. Jethro’s is a Des Moines favorite, and has been featured on the Travel Channel numerous times offering up some great BBQ. Jethro’s offers patrons a chance to participate in the Emmenecker Challenge. Named after former Bulldog basketball great Adam Emmenecker, the massive sandwich (and a pound of fries) is free if taken down in 15 minutes.
Just a few miles north is downtown Des Moines. If you are into “dives” and great food, look no further than the High Life Lounge. Complete with shag carpet and old neon signs, the High Life serves up some great food including broasted chicken and bacon wrapped tater tots.
Fans of pizza should be sure to visit Fong’s Pizza. Set in an old Chinese restaurant, Fong’s has traditional pies in addition to unique combinations such as crab Rangoon pizza. Fong’s is a fun place for people of all ages.
There are quite a few hotels in the area, including both higher and lower priced options. If visiting with a family, the Iowa Capitol building and State Historical Museum are both must-see options and are both free.
I’m not in favor of giving fans a rating this low. The problem isn’t their lack of passion. The folks that show up are generally engaged in the game and cheering on the team. The problem is that the stadium is massive and so few fans actually show up. Drake fans generally sit in the same sections which makes it nice that there are four or so full sections. Unfortunately, that leaves the rest of the stadium (save 30-40 fans that come with the visiting team) completely empty.
Drake Stadium is located in a residential area on the edge of the Drake campus. Located just a few blocks off I-235, the stadium is easy to get to. There are paid parking lots around the stadium ($8) but if you are willing to walk just a few short blocks, plenty of free parking exists in the residential areas. Inside the stadium, concourses are open and easily maneuverable. Restrooms are clean and more than sufficient for the small football crowds.
Return on Investment 3
Tickets are priced well at $12 for adults, $6 for kids 4-18, and children under 3 get in for free. If you save money by parking on the street, getting into the game and having something to eat and drink is a good deal.
The south side of the stadium displays banners of bowl games and conference accomplishments that the football team has earned over the years.
Unfortunately, football is an afterthought at Drake. Drake Stadium is clearly all about track and field. If you find yourself in Des Moines during college football season and want to see a game, Drake Stadium provides it at a reasonable price. If you want a great college football atmosphere and stadium experience, this isn’t it.